Help Your New Faculty (Re-)Launch Their Careers!

As I relaunch this blog, I am also relaunching in other ways as well.

My family has recently relocated from our home of ten years to a new home in a new state. That means my kids are starting new schools and starting to make new friends. And my wife and I are starting new faculty positions at a new university. As my partner is starting a career as a newly minted Ph.D. on the tenure-track, I am relaunching my career from one of tenured full professor at a small liberal arts college to one of NTT teaching faculty at a large R1 university. And today I will participate in an orientation for a multi-section course (in a subject I haven’t taught on over a decade!) with new doctoral students, some of whom have never taught before. So, obviously, restarts and new beginnings are pretty salient for me right now.

In my previous position as a faculty developer, I co-led a new faculty orientation program and a year-long group mentoring program for first year faculty. This morning I’m remembering the excitement and anticipation of those folks, as well as their questions, concerns, and anxieties. They are very real in my home this year, as they are in the homes and offices of new faculty everywhere. Folks who are relaunching their professional lives, either as brand new faculty or as experienced faculty in new institutions, are relaunching their personal lives as well. It’s important, then, for faculty colleagues and administrators to make sure that they (we???) have the resources and support for a successful launch and a safe, productive flight into new skies.

Tanya Golash-Boza from the University of California at Merced provides the following useful suggestions in this morning’s Vitae (which, especially if you are new faculty, is a great career development resource to follow). These are easy things that faculty leaders and institutions can provide that can really make a difference in this crucial period for new faculty.

If you have additional thoughts or suggestions, please share in the comments! And do feel free to “relaunch” this post and the TPP in progress to the new faculty and faculty developers you know!


10 Ways to Support New Faculty

August 13, 2015

As we near summer’s end, many colleges and universities are looking for ways to support new faculty members arriving on campus. Administrators and senior professors often realize that the old system of de facto mentoring — with older faculty casually showing their new colleagues the ropes — has its limitations.

Institutions usually start upgrading their faculty mentoring in two basic ways. First they formally assign a mentor to each new faculty member. Second,they set up a series of workshops on how to be successful on the job.

The system of assigning a mentor to each new hire is an important baseline. However, it has some of the same pitfalls of the de-facto system in that not all senior professors are good mentors, and many times they do not relate well to the challenges faced by new faculty. And it’s unrealistic to expect one faculty member to meet all of the varied needs of a junior colleague. Likewise, workshops on “How to Write Your First Book” or “Getting Your First Grant” can be indispensable, but many new faculty need support beyond a few one-hour, one-shot seminars.

Those two approaches are certainly better than nothing. However, there are many other, more creative ways of mentoring new (and older) faculty. I offer the following list of 10, none of which cost more than a few thousand dollars, and some of which are practically free.

  • Organize family meet-and-greets in a campus gym.

New faculty with small children often find it difficult to attend an evening event, and are also interested in meeting other professors with kids. Organizing a family-friendly meet-and-greet in a fun place like a gym can be a great solution. Make sure there are organized activities for the kids or even a few giant yoga balls to toss around.

  • Offer small grants to junior faculty to travel for off-campus mentoring.

In addition to on-campus mentors, newcomers to the profession often need to build their network by finding mentors and advocates outside of their home institutions. Departments can help by setting aside money to help faculty members defray such travel costs.

  • Give small grants to new faculty to invite senior scholars to campus.

The idea here is to ask visiting scholars to critique the work of new junior faculty. This often takes the form of a “book workshop” where a new faculty member invites three other academics to campus to discuss and critique the junior scholar’s book manuscript. I know faculty members who have done that, and found it a very valuable experience.

  • Sponsor campus discussions of books on writing and good work habits.

There are tons of amazing productivity books out there that new faculty should read, such as How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. Even better than just reading a book is to get together with colleagues to discuss the book. That not only ensures that the book doesn’t just sit on the shelf; it also gives people the opportunity to share pointers, work through challenges, and hear about other helpful books.

  • Reward stellar on-campus mentors.

As I mentioned, not all faculty members are capable mentors. By establishing a mentoring award, the university can both honor people who are good at mentoring and establish role models for other faculty who would like to be better mentors.

  • Create training workshops for faculty mentors.

Many faculty members have no idea how to be effective mentors, but they can learn. In training workshops, award-winning mentors can provide tips on their most effective mentoring practices.

  • Hold monthly problem-solving lunches.

A free lunch is an inexpensive, easy, and much-appreciated way to get academics together. A monthly lunch for new faculty gives them an opportunity to both make friends and talk through common challenges.

  • Organize writing feedback groups.

All academics need feedback on their writing. It can be challenging, however, to find people to critique your work. One way around that problem is to organize small writing groups with four members who meet four times during the semester or quarter. At each meeting, one person gets feedback on their work from the rest of the group, so hat by the end of the term each participant has gotten their work critiqued.

  • Organize writing accountability groups.

Writing feedback groups can be great when we need critiques, but sometimes we just need encouragement and support. Institutions can help faculty members by organizing four-member writing accountability groups that meet once a week for an hour. That helps motivate the group members to keep writing and also gives them a place to talk about productivity challenges and successes.

  • Provide a faculty-only writing space on campus.

Many academics have trouble writing in their offices because of constant interruptions. One solution is to create a quiet space on campus where faculty members can go to write. If the space has coffee, even better!

At many institutions, a cultural shift in mentoring practices is needed. A place that has long had a de facto or nonexistent mentoring program can be transformed into one where a positive mentoring culture exists. Mentoring programs will not be successful if they are “one size fits all.” However, by offering a variety of options, colleges and universities can support their faculty members and build community while they are at it.

Tanya Golash-Boza is an associate professor at University of California at Merced.

– See more at: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1097-10-ways-to-support-new-faculty?cid=VTEVPMSED1#sthash.5FJRJFtR.dpuf

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Don’t just write a teaching philosophy… paint a picture.

Writing a thoughtful and compelling statement of teaching philosophy is hard. It’s crucially important, and not merely for securing a faculty position, or making your case in a faculty review for tenure, promotion or merit. The process of self-reflection and articulation is an important exercise we all need to revisit periodically in order to (re-)discover the core of what’s important to us in our pedagogy and the outcomes we want for our students. But such self-examination can be awkward — where do I start? How much is it OK to toot my own horn? And more fundamentally, how do I put the basic instincts I have about what’s important to me into words that aren’t broad, abstract platitudes?  How do I get past “I want my students to be independent learners” and “active learning is important” and “I’m a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage?” (Those cliches may be true for us, but they’re deflating to write and tedious to read.)

The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis has a wonderful set of resources for helping one compose a teaching philosophy statement, including links to lots more online resources.  Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning has a useful site on writing a teaching philosophy statement, providing some simple but powerful question prompts to drive your philosophical invention, as well as a helpful video featuring Susan Yager, who frequently teaches in ISU’s Preparing Future Faculty Program:

But what the Wash U and Iowa State sites might not provide as clearly is a sense of the core of a really unique, definitive teaching philosophy: the concrete texture and experiential detail of your classroom, described in ways that help the reader get a vibrant sense of what it’s like for your students and for you as the teacher.

Here’s where Mary Anne Lewis from Ohio Wesleyan University comes in. In her recent post on Vitae (an essential blog site to follow if you’re on the job hunt, or even just interested in ongoing faculty development at your current place of employment), Lewis describes how she discovered the notion of a teaching philosophy as a “self-portrait,” and in doing so rediscovered and was able to articulate her personal joys of teaching and learning.

Be sure to check out the original post on Vitae — at the end is Lewis’ own teaching philosophy statement in an embedded document file… and it’s really worth the read!

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October 3, 2014

Image: sketch of Albert Camus, by Petr Vorel

Just two years ago, I was in the same position that many of you are in now, namely on the academic job market. The fall semester is under way and, in addition to dissertation work and teaching obligations, you have to write and revise some dense documents for your job applications. Those documents, far from conversational in tone, have to represent your past five to eight (or more) years of academic work in a clear, compelling, articulate, elegant way that demonstrates your unique contributions to your field. And you should have finished your other dissertation chapter. And your dishes are dirty. And you have run out of socks.

I found crafting a “statement of teaching philosophy” particularly elusive. What is it exactly, I wondered, and how does one write such a statement? Should the tone be philosophical, practical, entertaining, or some combination of all three?

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“Desirable Difficulties”, Part 2 (or a retroactive Part 1?)

Not much to add from yesterday’s post, except to point you toward another great discussion of the pedagogical opportunities provided by “desirable difficulties.” This time, David Gooblar, blogger for Pedagogy Unbound (and an instructor at Augustana College, yesssss!) provides some additional details for the kinds of moves you can make to provide opportunities for students to develop their storage memory for deeper learning. So, if you haven’t read Maryellen Weimer’s piece on desirable difficulties that I reblogged yesterday, great!  Read this one first, and then check out how Weimer recommends approaches to approaching student buy-in for a teaching approach that causes students to struggle (productively) on purpose.

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September 10, 2014

Browse the Pedagogy Unbound archives or share more teaching tips in our new group.

Last spring, a new study showed that students who took notes in longhand did substantially better on conceptual questions than those who took notes on a laptop. The results were, perhaps, not that surprising—until you consider that the laptops in the study had Internet access disabled.

It wasn’t that the laptop note-takers were more distracted. That may indeed be a valid concern with personal technology in the classroom, but it was not what Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of the University of California at Los Angeles set out to measure. Rather, their study suggests there are real differences between the utility of taking notes by hand and on a computer.

When students take notes on a laptop, the study concluded, the ease of data entry makes them more likely to transcribe everything the professor is saying. Students who take notes in longhand, in contrast, cannot write fast enough to get everything down and so must be selective. It is precisely that process—of summarizing, thinking about what’s most important, predicting what might be useful down the road—that helps those who take notes on paper. Students who use laptops end up with neater, more easily searchable notes, but they may be denying themselves the opportunity to do the upfront processing that is a crucial factor, it seems, in long-term retention of class material.

The study’s results illustrate an example of what UCLA cognitive psychologist Robert Bjork has termed “desirable difficulties”–learning tasks that make students’ brains work a little bit harder in the name of better long-term memory. Our brains don’t function like audio recorders, saving everything we perceive. Instead, memories are cemented through frequent neural activity, and repeated encoding and retrieval processes. That’s what underlies the so-called “testing effect,” which I wrote about back in February. When we give our students frequent tests on important material, we force them to work to recall information. It is that mental work that makes for better long-term retention of whatever it is we want students to retain.

All of which means we should be giving our students frequent tests and quizzes on facts and concepts we want them to remember, and providing opportunities for students to do the mental work that will serve them down the line.

I suppose we could ban laptops from our classrooms to encourage longhand note-taking, though there are good reasons why such a policy may be unwise. But how else can we introduce desirable difficulties into our classrooms? I’ve summarized a few ways below, taken from the work of Bjork and his wife, Elizabeth Ligon Bjork, also a UCLA professor of psychology:

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Leave the poop deck unswabbed, matey… just write!

The beginning of the academic year is always a crazybusy time. If you work at a teaching-intensive institution, the start of the year often feels like a time of mournful separation — with the end of summer comes the end of our scholarship productivity for the year. That’s because finding time during the term to get any writing done can feel like Popeye trying to get Poopdeck Pappy to sleep when he’d rather go out and start a bar fight.

The problem with “finding time” to write is that the enterprise is often impossible — there are always other things to fill our time. However, Joli Jensen from the University of Tulsa, a writing columnist for Vitae, reminds us that while the decks will never be sufficiently swabbed, we can still proceed to sail the scholar-ship (see what I did there?) with a little shifting of perspective and the application of a few easily implemented productivity tips (which she writes about in a separate piece that I recommend highly).

So put away the mop and weigh anchor, matey!  Arrrrr!!!

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Image: Richard Dorgan, from ‘Biltmore Oswald’ (Project Gutenberg E-Book)

August 29, 2014

 

One of the most widespread myths in academic writing is that you can, and should, try to “clear the decks”—that is, finish all of your other obligations before you can focus on your scholarship.

In a recent faculty workshop on “stalled projects,” six colleagues committed to try, for two weeks, a few of the writing approaches I’ve been recommending. No pressure, I told them. This wasn’t a permanent commitment. It was just a way to explore why these projects weren’t moving forward.

The day before our second meeting, one colleague emailed to say that she couldn’t start using the techniques because she was overwhelmed. There was just too much going on, it wasn’t an opportune time for writing, and now grading had to take precedence. She couldn’t make the meeting, and she would be out of town the following week, but hoped she could continue with the group once things settled down.

Obviously the “cleared decks” delusion had her in its grip. Even though she said she wanted to reconnect with her project, had been confident she could find 10 minutes a day to write, and had had a week free of teaching, she still hadn’t been able to get started. We had discussed specific ways for her to make better use of her time, such as doing scholarly writing before her grading. In spite of those suggestions, she still felt obligated to put her research project on hold until “things cleared up.”

The other members of the writing group understood, of course, but this time they had been able to make different choices. They, too, felt overwhelmed by other obligations. They, too, felt that this wasn’t the best time to be writing, and were tempted, each day, to put off even their brief 10-minute commitment. But somehow they were still able to try at least some of the techniques. And once they experienced even a little progress, they felt better about the project, and about themselves, and were eager to keep going. They were no longer stalled.

The reality is: Things never clear up. They don’t even reliably settle down. Your in box is always full. The decks are always crowded.  There is always more going on than you want or expect. Nonetheless, you can find ways to put your writing first, and make sure that it gets done. Otherwise, everything but your writing will get done.

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Crane-kick that publication, Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

Who doesn’t love a sequel? Summer is a great time for them, isn’t it? (Reminds me… still need to get to How to Train Your Dragon 2…) Of course, some are better than others…

Last month I re-blogged a helpful little article with tips for getting published. This morning I saw that the author, a journal editor at the University of British Columbia, wrote a follow-up piece with some helpful advice. Since we’re at about the halfway point of the summer, a prime time for many of us to re-focus on our scholarship, it seemed prudent to pass it along. (And since the author references The Princess Bride right after the jump, you know she’s cool.)

So enjoy this follow-up from Kirsten Bellpublished in Vitae from the Chronicle.

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Random Reflections on Getting Published

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July 14, 2014

In my last article, I provided a handful of obvious tips for junior scholars on getting journal articles published. My aim wasn’t to provide a comprehensive guide to publication, but instead to highlight common (and easily rectified) issues that I see regularly as an associate editor of an academic journal.

But there’s more to say. So as a follow-up, I thought I’d offer a few random reflections informed by my work as an editor and my experiences as an author.

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Summer goal: Crane-kick that publication!

I’ll be blunt: my publication record is seriously so-so.That’s OK for now… after all, I work at a teaching-intensive college and get involved deeply in campus service and some administrative stuff. Those are my primary emphases, and I love that work. But I enjoy finishing a research project, especially when I’m proud of the final product. I’ve had some success getting book chapters and conference proceedings submissions published, but I’d love to get some more stuff in peer-reviewed journals. Sure it’s nerdy, but closing the deal on a publication always makes me feel like I’m Daniel LaRusso polishing off Johnny the Cobra Kai with a sweet crane kick.

There are a couple of projects that are nearly there, including one that, in a former life, experienced some serial rejection. That was a bummer. So as my summer school commitments wrap up next week, I’m planning on devoting a chunk of my summer — as are many of my fellow travelers, I suspect — to nail down a couple of writing projects and submit for publication. It’s officially summer starting today — for academics that are primarily teachers from September to May, ’tis the season!

So this blog post from Kirsten Bell, a journal editor at the University of British Columbia, published in Vitae from the Chronicle, is well-timed — and it has some sound advice. So let’s get cracking, summer scholars — after all, we’re the best around!

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Research Associate at University of British Columbia

 
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June 17, 2014

Need more publishing tips or support? Swap strategies at our On Scholarly Writing discussion group.

Anyone who has ever submitted a manuscript to an academic journal will likely have had some opportunity to reflect on the capricious nature of the peer-review process. Attempting to publish is, at best, a frustrating experience. At worst, it seems that banging one’s head against a brick wall would be more fun.

But let’s step aside from what’s wrong with academic publishing, important though that may be. Junior scholars need to get published, and they need to consider—pragmatically—how to go about doing that within the current system.

So is this the article where the illustrious academic at the end of a long career generously imparts her pearls of wisdom, Mr. Miyagi-style, on a new generation of academics? No. But I have experienced the publication process from a variety of perspectives: as an author, a reviewer, and an editor. Especially in the last role, I can’t help but notice that there are several errors I see again and again—the sort of things that make me shake my head (and bang it against my desk on occasion). So with this in mind, I provide some tips on getting journal articles published. As promised, they are obvious—really obvious—which is why it’s a little surprising that I see them ignored so frequently.

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“Check your privilege” applies to professors, too

I located this image as I was surfing for blog elements — as I always do, to provide a humorous and ingratiating hook for the stuff I’m sharing. I was looking for a meme that connects with the content in the piece I’m reblogging below. This one seemed great: it references the now-familiar “cool professor” persona described by Washington State University at Pullman critical/cultural scholar David Leonard.

But after I downloaded it, the meme struck me as relevant in another way as well — it blithely appropriates the identity of a prominent African American rapper and music industry mogul. It does so ironically: the professor is not only white, but presumably much older than the typical hip hop fan, and he’s on a skateboard, a signifier of skater culture not generally associated with Jay-Z’s music. The point seems to be that this guy is doubly cool, in that he is able to seamlessly appropriate divergent threads of pop culture as part of a larger, admirable character. This prof is privileged indeed.

I found Leonard’s post in Vitae provocative and helpful. Unless I am explicitly discussing matters of race, gender, class or culture, I rarely consider my privileged status in the classroom. But this kind of self-reflexivity is important, not just for the benefit of our students but also for the careers of our talented colleagues who do not benefit from the existential privilege of a straight, white male identity. As our current moment finds calls to “check your privilege” as a source of intense cultural debate, this piece is worth your time.

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My Life in the Classroom, Where Race Always Matters

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May 20, 2014

When you walk into a classroom, what’s your demeanor? Are you approachable, even casual? Or do you favor authority and formality?

Ever since Katrina Gulliver, a professor at University of New South Wales, lamented a “culture of familiarity” in the lecture hall, I’ve been reading professors’ reflections on these questions. Reflections from professors like Will Miller, who pushed back against Gulliver: “I have been known to occasionally teach in clothes that I could mow the lawn in,” he wrote, “and apparently a student or two have at some point said I was cool. That’s not my goal, however.”

I’m a casual dresser, too, but that’s not what struck me about Miller’s essay. What stood out was this line: I may be a white male, but this has nothing to do with why I am comfortable in a classroom.

There’s a lot to digest here. But let me start with this: I am a white male, and that has everything to do with why I am comfortable in a classroom, why I am respected, and how I’m read by students and others. That is my story, and the story of my career within academe.

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